Sewing clothes for beginners: what I wish I knew when I first started

So when I was sewing clothes as a beginner it was probably one the least coolest things you could do.

Honestly, much of the time it was just me and little old ladies in Liberty’s haberdashery department. Indie patterns and sewing blogs weren’t really a thing. At least not in any way like they are now (and thank goodness!) But maybe now with so many resources and support it can all be a bit daunting.

I mean, where the heck do you start?

And actually, ‘how do I start sewing my own clothes’ is one of the biggest questions I get asked. So because sharing is caring, this post is all about how to start sewing your own clothes.

It’s basically the post I wish I had read when I first started sewing my own clothes.

I’ve decided to cover the three main basics:

  • Sewing Machines
  • Fabric
  • Best patterns for beginners

Heck, even if you’re an advanced sewer you’ll still want a read so you can throw down some of your own stellar tips for beginners.

So let’s get stuck in, shall we?

Sewing Machines

My Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has been in solid use since January. Read on for my review of this epic machine, including key features to love, an overview of how it performs on different fabrics and my rundown of who should be buying this machine.

To be honest, before you can start sewing we need to talk about equipment. I mean, a sewing machine is pretty darn key, right? ๐Ÿ˜

I’ve written about tips for buying a sewing machine you’ll love before and the tips still stand. But if you’re a beginner the main thing I’ll say is:

Get the best machine you can afford.

I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I know so many people who’ve bought a super cheap machine and regretted it. Cheap machines just make the process of enjoying sewing so much harder with bobbins that snag and poor stitch quality.

Look, I’m not saying go out and spend your nest egg on a machine, just be savvy. To be honest, you don’t need fancy digital displays or millions of stitches. But what you do need a machine that will sew an excellent straight stitch and zigzag stitch. Ooo, and maybe an automatic button hole, because time saver!

What you need is a good machine with sturdy innards (preferably metal over plastic). Look for basic models of top brands like Pfaff and Bernina. Buy in sales or buy second hand. And definitely have a play on some different machines so you can get a feel for what you like.

Also, don’t cheap out on feet for your machine, it’s best to have a few feet that are good quality instead of a flotilla of crappy ones. My favourite feet are my blind hem foot and an edge stitch foot, and a walking foot is must if you plan on sewing knits.

Confused by feet (heck, I know I still am sometimes!)? You can read more about feet in this post here.


Me Made May

I know it feels kinda counterintuitive, but hear me out. You may think it’s best to save money by using super cheap fabrics, but this can sometimes work against you. So really, do yourself a favour:

buy good quality fabric.

Cheap fabrics can actually be much harder to sew. They might be more slippery and harder to control which is not what you need when you start out.

I’m not saying you should run out and buy super expensive fabrics (cost doesn’t equal quality) but just don’t immediately default to the bargain bin. Look for places online that have a reputation for selling good quality fabric (you can see a bumper list of online suppliers here and tips for how to get the best fabric when buying online here).

Better yet, go out and feel different fabrics in person. Hands down it helps you to understand what different fabrics are like. I know i definitely ordered some really sketchy fabrics in my early days before I appreciated what different terms meant. Like learning that drill (a super heavy fabric) is not the same as twill (a lightweight fabric for shirts). ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

I’d say quality also applies to zippers. Buttons, interfacing, even thread you can cheap out on to a certain extent, but never zippers. Just other day I used a cheap zipper and had it fall apart after 1 wear. Now I have a pair of overalls that need some serious TLC. Ugh.


Me Made May handmade wardrobe review Me Made May Me Made May 2016 handmade wardrobe

Look, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t sew a pair of jeans straight off the bat, because, heck, you could if you wanted to. At the same time, there’s definitely some places that might be easier to start as a beginner.

In the end you’ll probably want to:

find simple patterns.

In general as a beginner I’d look for:

  • Patterns without zippers or buttons. Simple pull on designs mean you can focus more on getting to grips with sewing straight lines (not fiddling with zips or button holes)
  • Patterns with sew-a-longs or accompanying classes. I think instructions have gotten really good over the past 6 years or so. I reckon it’s thanks to all the Indie (Independent) pattern companies. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for patterns that have additional support either with dedicated posts or classes describing different parts of the process.
Best Patterns for beginners

Some of my favourite patterns for beginners:

Grainline Studio’s scout tee or willow tank – both really simple, classic pieces that are SUPER popular – and Jen’s instructions are always on point.

Marilla Walker’s Maya top and dress – I love the options for this and the fact that it pulls over your head is a big win (no pesky closures). This also was the basis for one of my most favourite makes – my Elizabeth Suzann inspired linen tee.

Fancy Tiger Crafts Fen dress – I love this dress. I mean look at those pockets! And like the Maya dress it pulls on over your head – no closures for the win! You can see my version here and a slightly hacked/altered version here.

Tilly & the Buttons Cleo dungaree dress – that’s right, you can make dungarees people. And they’ll be awesome. You can see my version here.

Lisel & Co everyday skirt – I just love the classic shape of this. I know it has a zipper, but the simple shape would makes it a great first pattern.

Tilly & the Buttons Dominique skirt – to be fair, all of Tilly’s patterns are great for beginners. Her instructions are super clear and she has great sew-a-longs on her blog.

Named Clothing Ninni culottes – that’s right guys, you can make trousers! This is a really beautiful pattern and the Named Clothing girls know their drafting. I love Katie’s version here.


And there you have it. In a nutshell I guess you could say the key is buy the best quality you can find without breaking the bank.

And avoid zippers. ๐Ÿ˜‚

Have any of your own tips for beginners? Don’t be shy – share them in the comments. Heck, I know I’m always looking for new tips and tricks.

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  • Elena I think all your advice it savvy! For the very beginner instead of Tilly’s skirt pattern I would recommend her first book LOVE AT FIRST STITCH which includes several patterns and takes the beginner sewist from super easy through increasing levels of challenge until by the end of the book the fledgling sewist had quite a nice little collection of me-mades and/or knows for sure this hobby isn’t for them ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree with you re machines – YES buy the best you can afford and really because the sewing world is burgeoning (and has been in quite a Renaissance for the past 10 years) there are millions of quality used machines available on the market from sewists lost in the wonders of upgrades and updates to their beginner models ๐Ÿ™‚ Buy used, take it to a dealer to have it serviced properly and you’re up and running properly. A frustrating experience with a cheap machine has turned more than one new sewist away from sewing forever! And YES good fabric! Cheap fabric just doesn’t honour your investment of time, effort, learning and likely blood, sweat and tears ๐Ÿ™‚ One wash and cheap fabric loses all it’s initial charm. It pills, shrinks, droops, fades and is just horrible on the environment. Take your time is my biggest advice. Plan your work and work your plan as you demonstrate throughout your entire blog Elena. Love all the work YOU do ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pajama pants are a good first project. If they donโ€™t turn out perfect, you can still wear them at home where only you and your roomies will see them.

  • Wonderful, useful post Elena. I’ve been sewing all mg life, and adore it, but in the past too many of my projects ended up in the bin because no one could teach me what I needed to about fitting. As a boobalicious woman, leatning how to do a FBA has changed everything!!! Thanks to all the awesome bloogers sharing your knowledge and skills.

  • Great post. I generally enjoy sewing in my own world and space, but I definitely benefitted from going to a class at Sew Over It to learn about sewing trousers. Very hard to fit on yourself without a bit of guidance but the great teacher there (Julie as I recall) shared lots of other tips and advice while we were there which I’ve used many times since. I’d suggest booking a class somewhere local to you if you’re starting out, even if you are a solitary sewist like me!

  • Some great tips…. Iโ€™d agree quality over quantity and do slightly disagree with cheap interfacing being ok – it really isnโ€™t as it can change the characteristic of the fabric and thereโ€™s nothing worse than that awful bubbling from poorly fused crappy interfacing. Having said that I adore cheap interfacing for tracing and tissue fitting patterns! Xx

  • Ooh, I’m definitely going to copy that simple horizontal embellishment (seaming maybe?) on the back jeans pocket you show here. Do you remember where you got the fabric? I love that shade of grey!

  • Great article! My only disagreement is about thread. Crappy fabric makes crappy clothes. Crappy thread can wreck your sewing machine. Crappy thread can break at inopportune moments, but worse than that, it sheds tiny fibers as it goes through your machine, which can can end up anywhere. I’ve seen damage to tension disks/regulator and bobbin assemblies. It’s fixable, but the cost to do so is definitely higher than the cost of buying decent thread to begin with.

  • I could have so used the zipper suggestion last week! I sewed my first *EVER* piece of clothing. It was the Peppermint Magazine Playsuit and I was SO confused by the invisible zipper. Thank you for these helpful tips! Iโ€™m making the Cleo Dress next, so fingers crossed that it goes better for me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nice post with sage advice. Just one note – the Everyday Skirt doesn’t have a zipper. It’s definitely a great beginner project as it has super instructions. For knits the Mandy Boat tee or the Plantain tee are good ones and free. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s
    truly informative. It will be highly recommended by me to my friends
    I am continually browsing online for tips that can aid me. Thanks!

  • hey, i like your article specially your writing style keep it up i read your your all work.Entire post really Awesome! Thank you for all the hard work you put into it. It’s really shows.english status about life || Thank you for all the hard work you put into it. It’s really shows. i read you all post i love to read your post and you work well.

  • I have never sewed before and my boyfriend is buying me my first sewing machine for Christmas! ๐Ÿ™‚ Your blog will definitely come in handy in a couple months. I am looking to obviously start off small and then work my way up to making more clothes for myself and other people in my family.

    Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚